Denver City Council member Serena Gonzales-Gutierrez speaks in front of Denver city hall to celebrate rental assistance provisions in the city’s budget on Nov. 14, 2023. (Sara Wilson/Colorado Newsline)
Denver leaders are calling on Colorado lawmakers to invest heavily in plans to help renters during an upcoming special session, one day after they passed a city budget with substantial money for the city’s own rental assistance program.
“Our city will continue to do the work, but the state of Colorado needs to step up and help. Help people stay housed. Help keep our neighbors under roofs and out of tent encampments. It’s a simple ask: do more than match the money,” Denver City Council member Shontel Lewis said on Tuesday during a press conference outside city hall.
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Denver City Council on Monday approved next year’s $4 billion budget, which includes nearly $30 million for the city’s rental assistance program amid a surge of evictions and increasing rent costs. That amount is double what Mayor Mike Johnston initially proposed.
The money goes to residents who are at risk of eviction to help keep them housed — an important investment at the front end, Johnston said, to avoid the much higher costs of connecting people to services if they end up on the streets or in the shelter system.
Doing nothing on rental assistance, he said, “is both a huge humanitarian mistake and a huge financial mistake.”
Colorado lawmakers are set to meet in a special legislative session starting Friday to deal with rising property taxes, following the rejection last week of Proposition HH by Colorado voters. Proposition HH would have reduced the state’s property tax rate and raised the amount of tax revenue the state could retain in order to support local governments. Additionally, it would have eventually set aside up to $20 million per year for a state rent relief program using the extra retained revenue.
How do we make sure that we provide some real relief, given how expensive the cost of living is in our state, both for property owners, but for renters as well?
– State House Speaker Julie McCluskie
Legislators are likely to resurrect certain provisions of Proposition HH during the special session, which will last at least three days. That could mean cutting the property tax rate for residential and commercial properties or exempting chunks from the value of homes themselves.
Denver leaders, however, want them to also match or exceed what they put aside for rental assistance. Lawmakers would need to use existing funds for any rental assistance they pass during the special session.
“I’ve heard there might be the same amount that we’re investing right now in Denver on the table for the entire state of Colorado. I don’t think so. For the entire state of Colorado, when we’re on track for over 50,000 evictions, we think $30 million is going to cover that need?” Denver City Council member Serena Gonzales-Gutierrez, who left the state Legislature this year to join City Council, said. “I’m going to propose to the governor: Denver has made our investment for our community. We need the state to follow suit.”
The conversation around Proposition HH, and now the special session, is centered on limiting property tax increases for homeowners, not on direct renter assistance.
By the start of October, more than 9,000 Denver households faced an eviction filing, setting the city up for the highest number of filings since 2008.
Democratic Gov. Jared Polis said during his announcement on the special session that inaction on property taxes could hurt people who rent.
“For Colorado renters, it means the uncertainty of how much their rent will go up, as landlords pass their costs on to them,” he said.
House Speaker Julie McCluskie, a Dillon Democrat, said she would personally be supportive of a rental assistance bill in the coming week.
“How do we make sure that we provide some real relief, given how expensive the cost of living is in our state, both for property owners, but for renters as well?” she told Colorado Newsline. “Right now, we have nothing. I am hopeful we can deliver real rental assistance — $20 million would be terrific, if we could do that.”
After the special session concludes, Colorado lawmakers will reconvene in January.
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